God Always Listens…

God looked down from the holy height,
from heaven God beheld the earth,
to hear the groaning…

From Psalm 102:20-21

When I was a child, people often asked me to pray on their behalf. I obliged as best I could. Every night, I said my prayers. This was more my mother’s doing than my own. When she tucked me into bed, she’d always ask, “Did you say your prayers?” If I had, I proudly acknowledged this. If I hadn’t, I admitted my omission and quickly began. Sometimes, though I told my mom that I already said my prayers, she mentioned that I might want to offer an extra prayer for someone who was sick or who had something difficult to deal with. Again, I happily obliged. I was pleased that someone thought my prayers were helpful.

Over the years, difficulties which seemed not to be alleviated by my prayers gave me reason to question this effort. I wondered far too often if prayer did any good at all. Fortunately, I eventually realized that presenting a laundry list of requests to God isn’t all there is to prayer. I finally learned to listen. Rather then voicing what God already knew, I invited God to look into my heart for my troubles and those I carried for others. Though I wasn’t always sure of what my prayer accomplished, just knowing that God was aware changed everything for me. Though I rarely knew what, I knew for certain God would see to everything in God’s good time.

Generous God, inspire us with your persistence, that we will always turn to you in our need and with our gratitude.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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We NEVER Walk Alone!

A few weeks ago, I finished my umpteenth reading of a favorite book which addresses the afterlife and our own struggles as we make our way there. As I closed the familiar volume, I wondered if the author had written anything more recently. When I entered his name online, images appeared of my now-ragged paperback and two additional titles. I immediately announced to my poor husband that we should expect a package in the next few days as I was ordering both new books and two extra copies of my favorite. Since my copy is no longer suitable to share, I need these extra copies to lend to interested friends. After placing that order, I went to the fullest and most frequently visited shelf of my bookcase. Though I’d intended to purge my collection to make room for my newly discovered prizes, I realized that I couldn’t part with any of my books.

I’ve been a student of death and dying since childhood. By the time I was nine years old, my uncle, both grandfathers and my dad had passed away. My remaining family members responded to these losses with absolute faith in our loved ones’ newfound heavenly bliss and I fully believed them in this regard. Still, when I began college and discovered that there were sources other than the Bible and catechisms to be found which address death and life after death, I immediately enrolled in a class which explored these topics. One of our required textbooks was written by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, a medical pioneer who defined the stages of dying as she cared for her terminal patients. Dr. Kubler-Ross is also likely the first medical doctor to admit publicly that she believed her patients’ seemingly incredible stories regarding their near-death experiences and the hereafter. It’s safe to say that I’ve read almost every book written on these topics since. I admit that, when given the chance, I can speak ad infinitum regarding all of this. When asked why I’m so interested in these things, I consistently answer from my heart: “They remind me that this life is do-able and worth all of our effort!”

The numerous determined authors who chronicle the stories of others or who write of their own experiences in these areas do so because they can’t help sharing their remarkable news with all who will listen. My favorite book and its counterparts have certainly added a new dimension to my faith and substantiated my hope regarding eternal life. These writings inspire me to plug away regardless of the difficulties at hand because I know what lies ahead at the end of this journey. I’m quite certain they’ve done the same for many who journey with me.

On this Pentecost Sunday, we celebrate Jesus’ efforts in convincing his disciples of the same. Jesus’ years of teaching through both his word and his example had been blurred in the midst of his passion and death and throughout the days which followed. The disciples felt terribly alone. Fear paralyzed them and they hid, wondering all the while if they, too, would hang from a cross. In spite of all that Jesus had said and done, they trembled. Though Jesus could have moved on to heaven without looking back, he returned to encourage his friends. Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene to offer her the gift his peace. When Jesus appeared among Peter and the rest, he didn’t chastise or rebuke them for deserting him. He didn’t review his lessons or question their understanding. The first thing Jesus said to them was, “Peace be with you.” Jesus’ purpose throughout these post-resurrection encounters was to fill up the disciples with his enduring presence and his enduring peace. If they believed that Jesus was with them in everything, they would endure. If they believed that they would survive their own deaths as Jesus had, they would prosper. Jesus’ final lesson assured all who would listen that this life is indeed do-able because none of them would be alone in their efforts. One day, each one would cross into eternal life just as well.

The scriptures tell us that, after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, the disciples returned to hiding. So it was that on the first Pentecost God’s Holy Spirit rushed in with a dramatic reminder of God’s enduring peace and presence in their lives. The wind and rumbling walls quickly drew their attention, renewed their hope and nudged them into action. The fire within them finally ignited fully and urged them out onto the streets of Jerusalem to spread God’s word. Suddenly, the things to come seemed within reach and the disciples’ lives became do-able after all.

As for me, I’ll continue to read about our journeys into the afterlife. Every word will underscore my conviction that God’s peace abounds and that God is with us in everything regardless of how alone we may feel at times. With every page I turn, I will celebrate this reality and reaffirm my conviction that, when all is said and done, this life is do-able and worth all of our effort. None of us will ever walk alone and we’ll all end this journey in God’s good company.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Loved Always and Forever!

It was decades ago…

Early that morning, I was sitting alone in the teachers’ lounge. I needed a few minutes to gather my thoughts before the school day began. My stepdad had been ill and I felt quite certain that he was in the midst of his last hospital stay. I didn’t realize a colleague had joined me until she said, “Mary, are you okay?” I smiled as I assured her that all was well. I must’ve been convincing because she replied, “Then can I ask you to do me a favor? I bought this book for a baby shower gift and I don’t know if it’s appropriate. Will you read it?” Since I felt badly about misrepresenting my state of mind seconds earlier, of course I agreed to help her. This was the day I became acquainted with Robert Munsch’s book, LOVE YOU FOREVER. When I delivered the book to that teacher’s classroom a few minutes later, I tearfully assured her that her purchase was the best baby shower gift I’d ever seen. It also unexpectedly lifted my spirits. After school that day, I clearly recall announcing to my dear husband that I needed to find that book and to purchase a copy of my own…

Year’s later, shortly after our parish was founded, my husband-the-deacon read that book at all of the Masses on our first Mother’s Day together in 1992. Mike’s gathered our children at the foot of the altar to do the same every year since. Though the book might seem to be a cutesy means to keep the children’s attention for a Mother’s Day homily, its message is meant to do far more for us all. When we listen carefully as Mike reads, we who believe in God’s promises can’t help identifying with the outlandish antics of the child and the eternal patience of the mother in the story. By the end of the book, we who believe in eternal life understand that the experiences of this child and parent illustrate precisely the relationship which God offers to each one of us. Let me explain…

From his infancy, Mother finds her helpless baby irresistible and she promises to love him forever. As is the case with us all, it doesn’t take long for this child to become adept at performing in less-than-lovable ways. Mother thinks the worst that can happen is having her watch flushed down the toilet until her toddler grows into boyhood and then his teens with all of the accompanying trials and tribulations. Still, whatever phase her child grows into, Mother repeats her promise to love him forever. Eventually, the young man leaves home for life in the world. In spite of the distance between them, Mother makes her way to her son to repeat her pledge to love him. As is often the case with those of us blessed with “seasoned” parents, the day arrives when Mother can no longer make her way to her son. She calls and invites him to come to her so she might to speak those words of promise to him one more time. You’ll have to read the book to discover what occurs when mother and child meet…

On this Ascension Day, Jesus finds himself in a similar predicament as his time on this earth with his disciples comes to a close. Though we hear different Ascension gospels each year, the core of Jesus’ message remains the same. In Luke’s account (Luke 24:46-53), Jesus says, “And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you.” Luke impresses upon us Jesus’ promise that God will be with us in everything. In today’s account from Mark’s gospel (Mark 16:15-20), Jesus asks his disciples to “Go into the world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” By sharing the Word, they will assure all who listen of God’s love for them. In Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 28:16-20), Jesus adds his promise, “I will be with you always, until the end of the world.” Jesus promises to remain at their sides through everything. Like the mother in Robert Munsch’s story, Jesus repeats his promise to those he loves over and over again. This is precisely the point of everything Jesus said and did. By the end of the story, you realize that Jesus’ hope is the same as that of the grown child’s mother: That his beloved children accept love and that they learn to love generously in return.

You know, my stepdad passed away not long after I read LOVE YOU FOREVER in the teachers’ lounge that morning. When I bade him my final good-bye, I pictured my stepdad cradled in God’s arms just as that mother had cradled her son and just as that son had eventually cradled his mother. I was convinced that God wouldn’t begin my stepdad’s first day at home in heaven any other way. So it is that I thank you, Robert Munsch, for the poignant glimpse of God’s love which your wonderful book has given me. Thank you, Jesus, for preaching this very lesson every day of your life among us. Thank you, God, for loving each of us through our lifetime journeys home to you. Thank you, Moms (and dad’s!) for doing your best to teach the same!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Munsch, Robert (1986). LOVE YOU FOREVER. Ontario, Canada: Firefly Books.
This book is available in bookstores and online.

Speak Up And Step Up

So they tried to arrest him,
but no one laid a hand upon him
because his hour had not yet come.

John 7:30

Since childhood, I’ve been surrounded by people who realize that sometimes we take chances in order to do the right thing…

When my husband and I married, our first parish was led by a priest I’d known since I was a little girl. Father O’Connell was like a dad to me. He was the first person I told when my own dad passed away. Father was also a bit of a rebel. Though he respected the letter of the law, he also had great compassion for those in need. He locked horns with the housekeepers of the rectory because he had “cluttered up” the basement with clothing which he’d collected for the poor. Not long after, he locked horns with a local mayor because he’d hired striking city workers to do odd jobs around the church so they could put food on their tables. Though he was threatened a few times, nothing ever came of the these things. In each instance, someone came to bat for him, perhaps out of fear that he was a little too close to God to mess with.

Over the years, when I protested the war and my employer’s unfair treatment of migrant workers, I worried just a bit about the job I needed to pay college tuition. Still, I felt certain that God would take care of everything. Later, when I had to stare down my principal and then face the superintendent, I worried a bit more as my family depended upon both my husband’s and my salaries. Still, I persisted. My crusades continue even today because God indeed takes care!

Dear God, give us the courage to speak up and to step up when it is up to us to do the right thing.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Prayer Lesson

The Lord looked down from his holy height,
from heaven he beheld the earth,
to hear the groaning of the prisoners,
to release those doomed to die.

Psalm 102:20-21

When I was a child, people often asked me to pray for things. Of course, I obliged as best I could. Every night, I said my prayers. This was more my mother’s doing than my own. When she tucked me into bed, she always asked, “Did you say your prayers?” If I had, I proudly acknowledged this. If I hadn’t, I admitted my omission and quickly began. Sometimes, though I told my mom that I already said my prayers, she mentioned that I might want to offer an extra prayer for someone who was sick or who had something difficult to deal with. I happily obliged. I was pleased that someone thought my prayers were helpful.

Over the years, difficulties which seemed not to be alleviated by my prayers gave me reason to question this effort. I found myself wondering far too often if my prayers did any good at all. Fortunately, I eventually realized that presenting a laundry list of requests to God wasn’t the best use of my prayer time. I learned to sit quietly for a bit. Rather then voicing what God already knew, I invited God to look into my heart for my troubles and those I carried for others. Though I was not always sure of what my prayer did for those who needed them, just knowing that God was aware changed everything for me. Though I rarely knew what, I knew for certain that something would be done in God’s good time.

Generous God, help us never to doubt your concern for us. Inspire us with your persistence, that we will always turn to you in our need and with our gratitude.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Gift of Pentecost

Until a few weeks ago, I had been on a bit of a roll. I had edited and added to a book which I’ve held in my head and my heart for far too long. I had reached Page 79 when life became complicated and I set aside this project for a while. I left the file open in order to add to it when time permitted -my first mistake. This morning, while working with another large document, I closed my book file. I wasn’t worried about this until I reopened it and discovered that the last twenty-plus pages were missing. I always click “save” throughout writing sessions and whenever I close them. I was so pleased with this progress on the book that I could not imagine that I forgot to save it. Nonetheless, the pages were gone.

I vacillated between anger and despair and then sought help. A friend suggested that I restore my computer. This helped with system issues, but didn’t restore the file. My son walked me through a file history check, but to no avail. My pastor called in the midst of my misery. “Did you have a back-up?” he asked. Well, I made a back-up for each of my previous books, but I failed to do so for this one. Because this world is plagued with far greater woes than my own, I refrained from praying for a miraculous file recovery. Instead, I made a back-up file of what I had and headed outdoors to mourn my loss and to clear my head.

The temperature struggled to reach fifty degrees in spite of the sunshine. I stuffed my hands into my pockets as I made my way down our cul-de-sac. I walked on out of my neighborhood and into the next subdivision. As I walked amidst the townhouses, a chilling breeze blew open my jacket. I zipped up and pulled my hood over my head. I looked toward the cloudless sky and declared, “Not funny!” Afterward, I picked up my pace just enough to create my own heat as I continued. As I warmed up, I inadvertently began to do what I most often do during my walks. I lost myself in Nature. I looked at the branches of every tree I passed to check the leaves. Not many months ago, green leaves turned yellow and brown and then fell to the ground to be trampled and blown away. I discovered that the cycle had continued in the buds and young leaves which had burst forth from charcoal branches everywhere. The wind continued, but I no longer minded.

I whispered an apology to the Almighty as I acknowledged that the cold breeze which assaulted me earlier had accomplished much more. That breeze gave me a chill. However, it also brought the pleasure and wonder, peace and comfort which I desperately needed. I had fretted so about losing those twenty precious pages that I had forgotten the source of my inspiration. Before I write anything, I pray for guidance. It occurred to me that perhaps God has something more valuable to fill those pages. Perhaps God used this event to remind me of the wisdom of backing-up my files. Whichever the case, something good had come of this misadventure. I realized once again that, just as God breathes life into the wonders of Creation, God will breathe life into whatever it is that I am meant to write. God breathes life into all of our efforts. With that, I prayed once again, “Thank you, dear God, for staying with me and for caring.” Before I could add an “amen” to my prayer, the wind blew my hood off of my head and pressed my sleeves against my arms. I took that as the Almighty’s “You’re welcome!”

That first Pentecost, the poor disciples were in a far worse frame of mind than I was when I set out for my walk today. While I had lost a few pages of questionable value, the disciples had lost Jesus himself. Though Jesus appeared among his friends several times after he rose from the dead, Jesus had ascended to heaven ten days earlier. All that remained with his followers were Jesus’ challenge to make disciples of all nations, Jesus’ promise to send the Spirit and Jesus’ insistence that he would remain with them always. Unlike you and I, the poor disciples worried and waited without benefit of two millennia of experiencing Jesus’ word at work. The disciples had no idea of what the future held. It was in the midst of their growing despair that God’s Spirit arrived in raging winds and tongues of fire. Like the cold breeze which chilled me to my senses, that wind and fire demanded the disciples’ attention and then filled them up. Though it took me a few days to get back to my book, Peter and the rest burst out of hiding and preached the Good News that very day. Though life proved never to be easy for them, the disciples persisted because they finally realized that they were never ever alone.

You know, God’s presence is not always tangible. My little Pentecost in the cold Midwest winds filled me with renewed resolve. Still, I sometimes walk in the fearful disciples’ sandals just as we all do. This is when we must let go of our worry and embrace the promise of Pentecost: God’s Holy Spirit is with us when we need God most; God’s Holy Spirit is with us always!

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved